We opened an advance copy of the new paperback edition of Margaret Visser's award-winning treatise, "The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners" (Penguin, $12.50) at random to page 140 and began reading:
"Dinners at 17th Century Versailles were brought to the royal table under armed guard, to forestall thefts and tampering. . . . The dishes had to travel an enormous distance -- nearly a quarter of a mile -- to their destination; as the formidable procession passed by, courtiers would take off their hats and bow, murmuring 'C'est viande du Roi' ('It is the King's meat')."
That was enough to hook us into poring over more than 400 pages of meticulously documented history of food, from Aztec etiquette to Emily Post's manners.
"The Rituals of Dinner" in paperback is due in bookstores on Tuesday.